“Everyone we hire at ICOB spends time working on the farm so they can truly understand and speak to our culture.
They have a real connection to not only
the farm, but also to all of the people who work so hard growing and harvesting
the oysters.” –Skip Bennett, founder, Island Creek Oysters; co-owner, Island Creek Oyster Bar
What is your role at Island Creek Oyster Bar?
My role is largely one as a link to the farms, the farmers, and many of the seafood products.
What led you to your current job?
Years ago, I heard about the Hog Island Oyster Bar out in San Francisco. After a trip there, I came back looking for a way to do something here in Boston. It seemed logical for the brand, and the intent of Island Creek Oysters has always been to get as close to the consumer as possible.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is actually knowing the people that work there. Everyone we hire at ICOB spends time working on the farm so they can truly understand and speak to our culture. As a result, they all have a real connection to not only the farm, but also to all of the people who work so hard growing and harvesting the oysters. Our team at ICOB is definitely an extension of the ICO family.
We loved the oysters and baked beans at ICOB. How would you say the restaurant fits into the culinary landscape of Boston?
Our connection to Boston, Duxbury, Maine, and Maryland—[the latter two] where [chef and co-owner] Jeremy Sewall and [co-owner] Garrett Harker are from, respectively—shows through in the menu, design, and character of the restaurant. Beyond that, I think the city was ready for an upscale seafood restaurant/oyster bar that offers the definitive seafood experience for locals and visitors alike. I’d love to think we have the potential to become the iconic seafood restaurant that Bostonians recommend to their out-of-town friends.
Name one iconic dish in Boston that a visitor cannot miss.
Jeremy’s oyster sliders are quickly becoming just that. People seem to love the lobster roe pasta as well, which is Jeremy’s spin on a surf-and-turf concept. Being a waterfront city, when you think “iconic Boston” it’s hard not to think seafood. Clam chowder would be an obvious one. Some of the newer oyster bars have done great spins on that traditional New England dish. Jeremy uses the littleneck clam, a smaller, more tender quahog—you should always use quahogs!—which gives both great flavor and texture.
EYW focuses a lot on a city’s historic and traditional foods. What do you think is the future of food/drink in Boston?
I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but the obvious answer is local, sustainably farmed food. The concept can be taken too far, but I really think people feel good about knowing where their food comes from. We serve oysters from both coasts, but we list all of the farmers on the menu and the servers know many of them personally. We can tell you where the oysters come from, how they were raised, and often quite a bit about the guy who’s raising them. This is true of much of our produce as well. Our concept is kind of farm-to-table, and everyone’s committed to staying true to that. Even our beverage program—we recently started carrying a Boston-based spirits line called Bully Boy Distillery, which is two brothers making Boston’s first craft spirits.
On EYW, we ask users to share short food memories related to travel, a favorite meal, family food traditions—anything. Can you share a food memory with our readers?
As an oyster farmer, I never dreamed that my oysters would lead to so many amazing meals. Before we partnered in ICOB, I was fortunate to have Jeremy cook for me in his own restaurant [Lineage, in Brookline, MA] a few times. It was always over-the-top. I’ve had the opportunity to eat at Per Se a couple of times—nothing can really compare to that. Another meal that really sticks out was one prepared for me by my friend Michelle Bernstein, when she worked at Azul in Miami. It was the first time I had eaten food like that—every course was something new and amazing. I can still remember the foie gras with chocolate. Michelle brought out every course herself, even though the place was packed. I remember feeling very special. It felt like a really warm welcome into the food world.